OZ Top Spot #11 – Griffiths Island, Port Fairy, Victoria
Apart from the snake on the beach, our island circumnavigation stroll was pleasant, albeit uneventful.
But a frisson of danger changes everything – and an element of uncertainty elevates the ordinary, or even just plain old pleasant, into something more remarkable, doesn’t it?
Or is that just me?
Whether Griffiths Island, at the mouth of Port Fairy’s Moyne River on Victoria’s Great Ocean Road, is a miracle of engineering or a fine example of ecological vandalism depends on whether you’re a colonialist or an environmentalist.
But the amalgamation of Griffiths and Rabbit islands in the mid-1800s via a breakwater, causeways, retaining walls and riverbed silt today provides a breeding haven for Short-tailed Shearwater (Puffinus tenuirostris), commonly known as mutton birds – an imaginative name bestowed by early settlers in honour of the main use to which they were put.
The mutton bird bodies littering the roadside aren’t due to hunters and gatherers these days, however. After flying 15,000 km from their Aleutian Islands/Kamchatka Peninsula winter home, the central Pacific’s buffeting south east winds claim many victims. But despite the huge distances, locals advise that the birds arrive in Port Fairy within three days of 22ndSeptember EVERY YEAR!
A ‘lifer’* for keen twitcher** Pilchard, our October 2011 visit was ideal timing – the birds had arrived, but had not yet returned to the sea for their post-mating two week ‘honeymoon’! According to the Natural Resources and Environment pamphlet ‘Griffiths Island Shearwater Colony’ to which I’m indebted for much of the information in this post, anyway!
And to a dedicated twitcher, sighting a dead bird doesn’t count …
But Griffiths Island isn’t just about birds. While no evidence remains of the whaling station, unsuccessful mission and lighthouse keepers’ cottages of yesteryear, the 3km interpretive walking trail passes the shearwater viewing platform and lighthouse before detouring onto the beach.
And the snake.
I would have taken a photo if the uncharacteristically balletic wings of ‘flight’ hadn’t somehow shifted me several metres away, shrieking like a girl, within a split second!
And Pilchard would have identified the snake if only it had uncoiled while he was standing right beside it … despite my reassurance that ‘snake’ was specific enough for me!!
Enough to send us scuttling back to one of Port Fairy’s two bakeries for a restorative snack! Although you’re right … it wouldn’t take much!!
On the cusp of the Kanawinka Global Geopark area of volcanic diversity, largest of its kind in the world, and the Bonney Upwelling*** where nutrient-rich water from Antarctica flows onto the continental shelf in certain conditions, Griffiths Island, Port Fairy and surrounds form a unique region of amazing natural phenomena well worth another visit.
And with any luck next time the snakes will stay away!
* Lifer = bird never sighted before
** Twitcher = birdwatcher – yes, the feathered variety …
*** Cool names, huh?!